WORCESTER – Safe Homes, a program of Open Sky Community Services, has announced that it will honor seven individuals and organizations making a difference in the Central Massachusetts LGBTQIA+ community on April 14 during its annual Safe Homes Gala. This year’s Gala is themed “Creating a Beautiful Future,” recognizing the ways in which the arts allow for greater exploration and self-expression, especially among the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We have all been faced with so many challenges in the past few years, especially those in the LGBTQIA+ community, but these champions inspire us with their strength and resilience,” said Open Sky President & CEO Ken Bates. “We are excited to be able to gather together again in person to celebrate our Safe Homes program and honor recipients of the People of Courage Awards for leading by example through these difficult times.”
The gala and VIP Reception serve as a fundraiser for Open Sky’s Safe Homes program, which offers educational programming, leadership training, free mental health counseling, referrals, recreational activities and emergency supports for the LGBTQIA+ community. It has expanded to two sites, Safe Homes Worcester and Safe Homes North at Fitchburg State University, and has a robust online community. In 2022, Safe Homes Worcester added a Transgender Resource Center, providing trans-identifying individuals access to gender affirming clothing and supplies, as well as peer support and counseling.
Mass General Brigham Health Plan and Spectrum Health Systems are the event’s presenting sponsors. Other leading sponsors include Arbor Associates, Fitchburg State University, FMC Ice Sports, and Hanover Insurance Group Foundation.
“Mass General Brigham Health Plan shares Open Sky Community Services’ commitment to the health and well-being of our communities, and we are pleased to support the Safe Homes Gala,” said
Steve Tringale, President, Mass General Brigham Health Plan. “We have an enduring legacy of investing in access to high-quality care, especially among vulnerable populations. As an integrated healthcare system, we are also developing innovative models of care that advance diversity, equity and inclusion and align with the vital work of organizations like Open Sky.”
“Spectrum Health Systems and Open Sky Community Services have a long history of collaboration stemming from our mutual respect for one another and our shared vision and values,” said President & CEO Kurt Isaacson. “It is our pleasure and honor to sponsor the Safe Homes Gala and show our support for LGBTQIA+ people and the Safe Homes’ mission.”
The 2023 honorees are:
Community Champion Award - Joshua Croke (they/them), owner of “Action! by Design,” a social innovation and change agency, and the founder of “Love Your Labels,” a nonprofit that explores LGBTQ+ identity and expression through art, fashion and design.
Inspiration & Innovation Award - Laura Marotta (she/her) & Stacy Lord (she/her) co-founders of Creative Hub Worcester, an organization committed to expanding the creative community in Worcester. They recently began a monthly Queer Artist/Maker Space to create a safe environment for the queer community to create together.
People’s Choice Award - Sayon Barari (he/they), a former Safe Homes Commonwealth Corps Service Member, and current volunteer who helped launch the Transgender Resource Center and developed the Queer, Transgender, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (QTBIPOC) group to help youth explore their intersecting identities. Sayon was selected for this award by the Safe Homes youth.
Social Justice Advocacy & Action Award - Nativity School of Worcester, an independent Jesuit middle school committed to serving youth of diverse backgrounds and faiths, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Volunteer Award - Jay Bry (he/him), a longtime supporter of the Safe Homes program, who, as CFO at Fitchburg State University helped develop the relationship between the university and Safe Homes to open Safe Homes North, bringing services and supports to LGBTQIA+ youth in Northern Worcester County.
Young Adult Award - Marvin Nuñez (he/him), an active volunteer at the LGBT Asylum Task Force, where he helps new asylum seekers and leads the organization’s marketing efforts.
Youth Award - Quinn Nimtz (they/them), a Safe Homes youth participant who was selected by staff for this award for their commitment to supporting their peers and the queer community.
The 2023 Safe Homes Gala “Creating a Beautiful Future” and People of Courage Awards takes place Friday, April 14 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the AC Hotel by Marriott in Worcester. The event will be emceed by Ché Anderson (he/him), Assistant Vice Chancellor for City & Community Relations at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Jorge Sanchez (he/him), Director of Diversity and Inclusion, UMass Chan Medical School/For Health. Learn more online at safehomesgala.org/gala.
About Open Sky Community Services
Open Sky Community Services is a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency based in Worcester, Mass. that has been opening doors for individuals in our community for over 50 years. The agency provides a wide range of services throughout Central Massachusetts for children, adults, and families with mental health challenges, intellectual and developmental disabilities, substance use disorders, brain injury, homelessness and other complex challenges. Open Sky Community Services has over 1,200 dedicated employees and more than 100 programs throughout the region, supporting over 5,000 individuals annually. Open Sky is committed to race equity and is on a journey to learn, grow, teach and transform. For more information, please visit www.openskycs.org.